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The Story Grid: What Good Editors Know Paperback – April 28, 2015
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WHAT IS THE STORY GRID?
The Story Grid is a tool developed by editor Shawn Coyne to analyze stories and provide helpful editorial comments. It's like a CT Scan that takes a photo of the global story and tells the editor or writer what is working, what is not, and what must be done to make what works better and fix what's not.
The Story Grid breaks down the component parts of stories to identify the problems. And finding the problems in a story is almost as difficult as the writing of the story itself (maybe even more difficult.)
The Story Grid is a tool with many applications:
1. It will tell a writer if a Story "works" or "doesn't work."
2. It pinpoints story problems but does not emotionally abuse the writer, revealing exactly where a Story (not the person creating the Story...the Story) has failed.
3. It will tell the writer the specific work necessary to fix that Story's problems.
4. It is a tool to re-envision and resuscitate a seemingly irredeemable pile of paper stuck in an attic drawer.
5. It is a tool that can inspire an original creation.
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- Publisher : Black Irish Entertainment LLC; Illustrated edition (April 28, 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 344 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1936891352
- ISBN-13 : 978-1936891351
- Item Weight : 1.77 pounds
- Dimensions : 8.5 x 0.78 x 11 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #109,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on May 13, 2015
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I've read about 25 books on craft, both screenwriting and novel writing, including all the McKee books this author mentions many times in The Story Grid, so I think I hope I can explain my frustration in the context of knowing what other books offer.
Each section in the book doesn't actually describe WHAT he's trying to explain, he only jumps right into movie examples to try to show you what he means. For a writer, sure movies are a good reference, but books are far better. Each section is really short. I'd try to parse out - what is he actually trying to say here? I'm not sure I succeeded.
He does ultimately show how his editing formatting works for the last third of the book, and includes an example which was useful. But I read a 4.99 book that used one chapter to basically tell me the exact same thing (outlining, word count, POV, tracking characters). I didn't hang in there to learn how to track all the changes in each chapter... because again... he didn't tell me HOW to figure out if my chapter started at a negative value and went to positive, etc. I understood each chapter needs change, but how do I analyze it myself to figure out what the values are? If it's swung enough?
There are two chapters that did have a lot of value for me. The external genres and internal genres chapters. I did get a lot of out of those two.
I went into this book hoping it would help me be a better critique partner for my writing group. I wanted to be able to analyze books in other genres better. I'm not sure I succeeded.
However, the "teaser" videos on the website and the description of this book focus on how every type of story has obligatory scenes that have to be included in order to satisfy reader expectations and create something cohesive. Once you determine the type of story you're telling, you can then move through these obligatory scenes and make sure they're all represented, satisfying, and hopefully innovative.
Based on that, I thought there would be at least a high-level walkthrough of what these obligatory scenes actually ARE. They're there for The Silence of the Lambs, which is the example Coyne uses to illustrate his own process. This is great and helpful, but it only covers that one type of plot. If you're writing a different genre and/or story type, there's no detailed information for you.
The only advice you get is that you need to know what the obligatory scenes are for your story (which consists of both an internal and external journey, several different types of interacting sub-plots, etc), and if you don't already know them, you have to learn them yourself by just reading a lot in your genre. I was a little disappointed by this. I HAVE read a lot in the genre I'm writing in. I think most people have! If this book isn't going to actually share what's obligatory in the major genres, and tell you to go figure them out yourself instead, I wished there were a little more concrete help for how to do that. Sure, you can find books in your genre and put them through the Story Grid, but what if I'm not writing something as easy to recognize as a Hard Boiled Murder Mystery? How the heck do I find other Action Adventure, Man-Against-Man, Machiavellian, Worldview Disillusionment Plot with elements of urban fantasy and sword-n-sorcery that share enough with my own story to be applicable? On a more basic level, should you do this with three books? Thirty? If they themselves break the conventions and skip important obligatory scenes, as Coyne admits bestsellers frequently do, how do you recognize that? You're looking to these as your examples OF those obligatory scenes themselves. How can you know if they're not there?
TL; DR: Book seemed sold as a guide for what the top-line obligatory scenes are in the major genres. In reality it is more a (still very useful) argument in favor of using obligatory scenes to structure your story, without much concrete information about what those scenes actually are.
UPDATE: Added a star. It may not spell out what you think it will going into it, but it really is an excellent comprehensive resource for understanding story structure.
First and foremost, it’s practical. Add it to your writer’s tool-kit. Come back to it when you get stuck, the principles are there to guide you.
Shawn lays out the key elements to make a story (or scene) work and, more importantly to me, dissects Silence of the Lambs as an illustration of those principles in play. Through his detailed work, Shawn teaches you how to critically deconstruct every aspect of a story (from the global arch a reader would expect in a given genre down to the five commandments that must be present in every scene – and, yes, even every beat therein).
The Story Grid is less about hyping Thomas Harris than it is about a describing/teaching a methodology for breaking a story down into workable chunks and then coming to an informed view on whether it all works when pieced back together. It’s insanely detailed, painstaking work, which pays off in the end.
It’s a big, very detailed, book. The payoff is worth it. There’s no magic bullet. The Story Grid takes grit to get through (especially if you are critically reading Silence of the Lambs along with it – which I strongly recommend). I agree that, at times, the graphics are hard to read – but this book, to me, is more about how the graphics come together (and even further, how you can use those principles to critically edit on your own). As others have mentioned, the graphics are available for free in soft-copy from the website.
Bottom line: if you want to edit your own work, this book will give you a fighting chance! It will help you articulate why certain elements of a story don’t work and give you the tools to make sure it does (it just won’t do it for you, though we already knew that!).
Top reviews from other countries
Initially, I thought it was a bit pricey - but the book is almost A4 in size and as soon as it arrived I realised why it is a little bit more than other books on storytelling craft, and trust me, it's so worth it. Make sure you do get the paperback copy rather than the ebook as you will want to use it as a textbook, scribble all over it and study the graphs and templates that are difficult to view as an ebook.
As a self-published author working without a structural editor (that mythical dying breed of editors that are becoming increasingly extinct or you have to pay thousands to review your work), I had questions that I wanted answered and Storygrid has helped me clearly identify where some of the issues lie in my own books. I was considering paying thousands of pounds to a complete stranger to try and help me - my advice now - DON'T. READ THIS INSTEAD!
I thought I was an expert in my genre, but with Shawn's help I've realised the differences in the nuances in my external and internal genres across my three book series and what obligatory scenes were missing from my current WIP - and I cannot tell you what a revelation that has been for me. I only wish I'd found the Storygrid sooner. It would have saved me 50K wasted words scrabbling around in manuscript no-mans-land in my current novel.
In the book many of the examples are based on the thriller genre and specifically Silence of the Lambs, but he does cover off all of the templated points for all of the other genres. And once you know what you're looking for you can find some of the more specific detailed stuff on his blog - eg the obligatory scenes for the three different types of Love story (my genre) and the obligatory scenes for a mini-plot based on a Worldview internal genre. But you need the book first otherwise you don't know what you don't know.
Much of his teaching is about pacing, using his formula of The Five Commandments, which you can break down at a micro level to ensure a beat, a scene, a sequence and an act is working, as well as ensuring this structure exists in your overall Global story, and I found the mapping of this to be sooooo useful. I realise now the problem lies in my Middle Build.
Honestly, I cannot rave about this book enough. This is a MUST HAVE writer's resource and in my opinion, should be made mandatory before anyone is allowed to self-publish anything on KDP! It's that good.
Get it. Study it. Scribble all over it, and you will improve not just your craft, but also the speed at which you will be able to write, publish and turn your writing ambitions into a professional career.
I liked this, but felt it could have been two thirds shorter and got to the point more effectively.
Update: The content in the book is solid gold – I’m re -reading my copy at the moment. I do think it would benefit from being about half the length though – I tire of the lengthy anecdotes which don’t add substance to the book. A couple maybe – but I feel like every point comes with a drawn-out Hollywood story whereas in fact, the writing advice stands alone.
I love the section on the expected scenes for each genre (‘obligatory’ scenes) but sadly my genre (fantasy) is missing. I’m compiling my own list of genre expectations.
Overall I found the advice in the book is really great, but I wish he would just get to the point!
Like another reviewer, you'll have to read it at least twice to sift through it to get the treasure. The kindle reader has terrible diagrams which makes it impossible follow up the explanations with their application. I had a look online at the website (with the same name) but their downloadables are low quality as well. I guess the hard copy would be the way to go.
It makes the reader feel that, suddenly crafting a good story can be done...if only you can wade through the copious words to dredge it up. I'm sure it can be done.
Started writing novels with no structure (pantsing, or by the seat of your pants) and wondered about structure. Wasn't it a bad thing? Didn't people complain that the novel they'd just read seemed to be written to a formulae?
Listening to various 'writers' podcasts and one mentioned 'beats' and writing with structure. Googled a free grid and fitted my already written novel into the grid. It worked. Hooray. Yeah me.
Wrote more trying to fit work into said structure from the beginning but found it restrictive and stifling. Wanted to know more about structure.
Shelled out big bucks for the (large) paperback. Read from cover to cover and it now sits on my bedside table as a reference. (Write 5am to 8am).
Some have said the book contains too much detail. I tend to agree, slightly, especially when it comes to plans that feed into bigger plans. The book is based on film work (Silence Of The Lambs) but is relevant to novel writing, especially thrillers.
My method now is to have the basis of The Story Grid in Ms Excel and fill in detail after each chapter. I write, freeflow, not to The Grid, but relating back to it allows some form of structure. (eg. Too heavy in beginning and end with very little middle story.
I've heard successful authors in podcasts say they never look at this sort of grid and I guess we are all different. For me it's a case of picking the best of both methods.
Given what I know, would I buy the book again? Most definitely. If only for the fact that if I get stuck in novel direction I can treat this book as a road map to get me to the next place.
Five stars and big thanks to the author for allowing me more writing enjoyment.
This book is written by an experienced editor and it shows exactly what he is looking for in a story, and how to use this knowledge of structure to get your story right. Even if you are mixing and matching genres, you have to know your archetypes thoroughly before you can blend them.
There's a lot of good advice in here for anyone writing a book. He's aimed it mainly at fiction writers, but his argument would map over to non-fiction too- you need a structure to hold your narrative together.